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Grandes Écoles: will the “Talents” sector correct the lack of diversity?



The National School of Administration (ENA) is not about to close its doors. After expressing the wish in 2019 to remove the prestigious training from which he himself came, Emmanuel Macron finally chose to diversify access. As of the start of the 2021 school year, the ENA and four other senior civil service training institutions – National Police School, School of Public Health Studies, National Institute of Territorial Studies, National School of Prison Administration – will open in their competition a lane reserved for candidates from modest backgrounds.

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Coming from “Prépas Talents”, the numbers of which will increase from 700 to 1,700 each year, these students will benefit from places newly created in these schools and corresponding to 15% of promotions. For Emmanuel Macron, it is about repairing a ” social ladder [qui] works less well than 50 years ago “ and that more “No kid in our Republic says to himself: ‘this is not for me'”.

Diversity in the grandes écoles has not improved

If the presidency denies establishing any ” positive discrimination “, the new places will be indirectly guaranteed on the basis of social, economic and territorial criteria governing access, upstream, to “Preparations”. “We play on words, but this device clearly consecrates the system set up at Sciences-Po Paris”, analysis Annabelle Allouch, lecturer in sociology at the University of Picardy. Since 2001, the establishment has welcomed students from disadvantaged high schools bound by priority education agreements.

“Over the last twenty years, the acceptability of the population for this type of selection has really increased, notes Annabelle Allouch. Everyone understands that meritocracy does not work and the need for levers to correct its failings. “ A vast study, published in January by the Institute of Public Policies, proves that social diversity has not progressed in the grandes écoles. Between 2006 and 2016, the share of the most disadvantaged students – children of workers or people without a professional activity – never exceeded 10%, even though they account for 36% of their age group.

Don’t stay based on a certain type of student

“The social opening mechanisms were not ambitious enough to permanently change their recruitment, confirms Georgia Thebault, doctoral student at the Paris School of Economics and co-author of the report. It should not be here [avec la filière « Talents »] reproduce the same errors, with a system that is too fragmented. “

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If the reform will only benefit a few dozen students each year (6 at the ENA), the researcher still sees a ” good idea “, “Forcing to be proactive”. However, it warns of the need for “Second complementary approach” to correct the inequalities which, long before the competitive examinations, keep the most disadvantaged away from these major administrative schools: reputation and geographical location of secondary schools, guidance, mastery of foreign languages, etc.

“We are not going far enough upstream”

“It starts in elementary school, or even before”, abounds Marie-Françoise Bechtel, director of the ENA between 2000 and 2002. The State Councilor and ex-deputy (socialist) severely judges the presidential announcements, “Solutions in tune with the times but lacking in ambition” : “He condemns himself not to act in the long term and to rebuild the social lift. We do not go far enough upstream, from childhood. This is where it all plays out. “

Director of the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health, Laurent Chambaud will welcome 15% of “Talents” among his future directors of hospitals or medico-social establishments. And even before the reform is implemented, the doctor is of the opinion that the “Openness strategy must be done at several levels” : “Everything upstream is not organized enough. And even if we are far from the ENA, our recruitments are also subject to heavy determinism. From school onwards, we must support those who, over the course of their schooling, will develop an appetite and skills for our professions. “

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